Return to Marysville-Redux

So, I’m getting the hang of this blogging stuff. I have re-read my post from yesterday, and have realised, IT  WAS ALL ABOUT ME!

What I did want to write about was the long term nature of recovery. This was a theme of the workshop, everyone there recognises that recovery is not over in days or even weeks. We have recognised this for decades, yet something is not getting through.

We still have decision makers who view recovery as reconstruction, and do mental sums in their heads, this many houses, this many builders, OK we should be done by  xx date. It is understandable in one regard, as our natural inclination is to focus on the tangible, the practical, and the need to get something done. There is a tension here, the need to get something done (and be seen to be getting something done, the political minders all have Dubya firmly in their minds, “I’m with ya nworleans, from the comfort of Airforce One)  with we know these processes take time.

To build a house takes time, from the point of time that you sit around the dining table and decide to build, until you put the key in the door can be years. To build a home is way longer, and is wrapped up in the psychology of place attachment, which my colleague Hannah Cliff is doing some research for us on. Peter Read’s Returning to Nothing (Cambridge Press 1996) is an important book to read about loss, attachment and place grief.

On top of all of this you have to overlay the traumatic nature of what has happened, the loss of control (in the above scenario, you are making decisions, you are in control), the loss of loved ones, friends, neighbours, maybe your job, the place that you have grown to love and live in. It is little wonder that people develop a fog, Bushfire Brain many people I know call it. Their decisions, when they are ready to take them maybe “do we want to stay?, what is there for me? have I got an income? are the same people still here? can I face the threat again? We know that strong social capital, according to Daniel Aldrich may reduce people from exiting, but a range of factors come into play and into sharp focus, unlike in daily life. It is unusual to have all of these thigns happen at once. And be part of a bigger “thing”

Yet decision makers, the general public, and the media treat it as a short term problem to be solved. This is our great challenge, to understand the rebuilding process, from ashes to home, and then articulate, educate, and keep reminding people it years to a decade before people feel that they live the life they value living (to quote Anne Leadbeater).

So it was interesting for me to be in Marysville. Not having seen the change in the township since that first week (unlike Kinglake and Strathewen, where I have been on and off), I arrived in a town. A real town (the locals may think differently). But if you were arriving in Marysville for the first time, you would be forgiven for thinking what happened here. (other than all the buildings are new). The gardens have revived, the epicormic growth of the eucalypts has all but gone. You would be forgiven for thinking it all looks……normal.

But you can’t really see the empty blocks, the lack of traffic, the empty cash registers, and what is going on inside of people’s heads. Each of the shops i visited was quiet, but I was able to chat with each of them. It is quiet there. It picks up during winter, but off season is very quiet. I bought something from each of them (the rocky road from the Marysville Patisserie is stunning).

While clearly Marysville is progressing, and they have great leadership, we can’t forget all of these things, and it takes time, and for each person this time will be different.

2 thoughts on “Return to Marysville-Redux

  1. Amen to this, John. So many of the timeframes and deadlines around recovery have, really, zero to do with the people who are recovering and much more to do with accounting, reporting and PR/media. And meanwhile, the feeling that you are not recovering ‘fast enough’ adds to the sense of despair. As it must, the wider world moves on, but the lasting impacts can be hard to overcome…


  2. and funding. As Kate Brady often says, recovery doesn’t finish at the end of the financial year. And I know I have been responsible for plenty of these programs. Part of the challenge, is that we don’t have great research evidence for the long term nature of recovery, and the evidence that we do have, we don’t convert to a cost benefit analysis, ie we spend a 1 on community development or outreach, or community events, it will save $xx in GP visits, or the cost of relationship breakdowns, or policing of risk taking behaviour or domestic violence

    This was one of the reasons why I ws very supportive of the Beyond Bushfires Project, so that we can develop sound business cases for long term recovery projects for all scales of disasters, not just the big ones (this is another topic for discussion, scale)


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